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(13) St. Augustine's Bay, Johanna, Ceylon [[60-63]]

[[60]] A few vessels touch at St. Augustine's Bay, on the west coast of Madagascar. The treacherous disposition of the natives is however a great objection, so that the generality pass on to Johanna, the only island of the Comora cluster which the English have been in the habit of visiting. On account of the strong current setting round its southern extremity, vessels keep close to the shore as they approach Saddle Island, which at low water is connected with Johanna by a ridge of sand. On this, the Huntingdon Indiaman was lost about fifty years ago, in attempting to pass without going round Saddle Island; which derives its name from the appearance it bears, when viewed at a certain distance.

The whole coast, from the southern point to the bay where the town is situated, presents, with [[61]] very little exception, a bold shore, divested of those dangerous reefs which render Mohillah, and others of its neighbours, difficult of access. The country is extremely mountainous, in some parts abounding with cocoa and other trees. Wild goats are numerous; but being much in request among the natives, are very shy; and, in general, retire to the most rugged eminences. To the left of the town, about two miles distant, a long reef of black rocks encloses a bay, of which the beach is covered with a fine sand, shelving very gradually, and bearing a strong resemblance to that of Weymouth.

The houses in the villages on the coast are rather mean, though appertaining to persons who have ridiculously assumed European titles of eminence. The island swarms with "Prince Ruperts," "Prince Eugenes," Dukes, Marquises, and Lords, all of whom are mean and knavish to an extreme. The common form of building consists of a long barn-like apartment, entered by a low door in the middle of its length; and having another opposite at the back which leads to the most dirty out-offices that can be imagined, wherein the culinary operations, &c. are carried on.

In the dwellings of those who admit lodgers, which may be said to include half the town, the places for sleeping, for one cannot call them bed-places, are raised, towards the two gable-ends, to the height of full six feet; and, in some, are parted off by a curtain of coarse chintz or other cloth. These recesses are from three to five feet wide, and about ten or twelve feet long; according to the breadth of the house. The ascent to them is formed by several very broad stairs, covered with matting made of cocoa-tree leaves, or, in a few, with carpets.

Each step is considered as accommodation for two persons to repose upon, feet to feet: in most instances; however, the steps are not long enough [[62]] to allow more than one person to lie down. This arrangement is by no means displeasing, nor is it attended with so much inconvenience as would be the case were the whole upon a level.

The middle of the room is set apart for meals, usually served on tables of a wretched construction. The guests sit, as well as they can, upon little stools, or recline on the matted floor against the lower steps; which, indeed, is not only the most comfortable, but, among the natives, is considered as the most decorous, mode.

Williamson 1810, vol. 1: ((113)) The inhabitants of this island [of Johanna], which lies in 12° south, and 45° east, are chiefly descendants of some Arabs who settled here about two centuries ago. Its name is properly Ilinzuan, from which we have, by a series of corruptions, contrived to affix the present designation. Most of the inhabitants who are not of Arabian descent, are slaves, purchased for a mere trifle at Madagascar and Mozambique, with which places some intercourse is preserved; though the Johanna marine seems but ill suited to crossing even that narrow sea which separates it from either Cape Ambro, or the opposite coast of Mozambique.

The number of vessels called war-boats may amount to about twenty, each capable of carrying two hundred men. These barks, which are entirely open, are usually furnished with an immense number of paddles and oars which, aided by a large square:sail, cause them to make good way through the water. In such a temperate climate, where the wind always blows from the south-west, and where, with the exception of those hurricanes peculiar to the higher latitudes, fair weather prevails during the whole year, such a naval armament may prove adequate to the ordinary purposes of its construction.

((114)) All warfare with any of the neighbouring islands is supported by voluntary contributions; each person of consequence taking with him provisions, and arms, for his respective adherents, of slaves. The revenues are collected from about two hundred villages; but the three principal towns are exempted from any contribution beyond the fortieth part of their moveable property; which all, of whatever degree, pay annually to the Mufti, or head of their church....

 Not a horse is to be seen on the island; but plenty of excellent cattle thrive uncommonly on the rich pastures of the valleys. Through most of these, streams of the purest water, everywhere broken by rocks, or gliding over shallow beds of gravelly sand, pursue their eager course. It is remarkable that among other poultry, the Guinea fowl should abound. Thousands may be seen in a wild state; if they may be so termed, when by throwing a handful of grain at your feet, all will instantly approach to participate of the bounty.

Williamson 1810, vol. 1: ((123)) After quitting Johanna, which is the only ((124)) island in that cluster whither European vessels ever intentionally resort, such as maybe bound to Bombay usually make the great peninsula somewhere about Anengo, pursuing their course up the western, or Malabar side; while those proceeding to Coast and Bay (i.e. Madras and Bengal) endeavor to get a sight of Dondra-Head, which determines both their latitude, and their longitude; thence they pass round the eastern side of the island of Ceylon, of which the shore is sufficiently bold to allow their keeping within two or three miles of the land with perfect safety, in regard to reefs or shoals; but this quarter being extremely subject to violent gales, that come on rather suddenly, or, at least, without much notice, and are known by the name of 'white squalls', it is generally considered most prudent to keep a good offing. 

These white squalls invariably take place when the sky is free from clouds; but may sometimes be distinguished, as they approach, by the white spray raised from the water by the violence of the wind: so soon as that is discovered, all the small sails should be taken in, and the ship rendered as compact above as time may admit. The warning spray is too frequently unnoticed; and even when perceived, is for the most part too close at hand to admit of much preparation. This insidious danger extends, more or less, from the soufh end of Madagascar up to the latitude of ((125)) Tranquebar, being most prevalent to the southward of the Line, where.the south-west trade wind prevails at all times.

 By referring to the India Register, at the proper place, it will be distinctly seen, that the island of Ceylon has been adopted as a royal possession, in the government of which the Company have no share. The whole of the civil establishment are appointed by the king; and the military receive their commissions; from the secretary at war, independent of the Company's chartered establishment. It generally happened, in former times, that some of the Madras battalions were on duty in the island; which has always been in a most perturbed state, till now, when sanguine hopes are entertained of peace and plenty reigning there for years to come.

It is rather unusual for the Company's ships to touch here, except when sent to Colombo with stores, or calling there on their way home, [[63]] for cargoes and passengers. Only very small vessels can pass between Ceylon and the Main, notwithstanding the great width of the channel, on account of that immense reef intermixed with shoals, stretching across its northern part. This reef, called 'Adam's Bridge', is supposed to be formed by the summits of mountains that by some dreadful convulsion were sunk below those waters, between which they originally formed a stupendous isthmus, like that of Darien, connecting Ceylon with the continent.


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